Oct 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

John McCain behind the scenes

Mike Allen
John McCain book
Cover: Simon & Schuster

"The Luckiest Man: Life With John McCain," out Tuesday, is a fascinating reminiscence by Mark Salter, who was the late senator's closest aide for 18 years and collaborated with him on seven books.

"For all his chronic impatience," Salter writes, Sen. McCain "would persevere for years, decades in pursuit of a goal [including comprehensive immigration legislation] he believed was right and just. And he was drawn to people who did likewise, people who refused to accept permanent defeat, who held on to hope when experience taught them hope was for fools."

Among the news in Salter's book:

  • A 1993 scene in which Donald Trump, then a failing casino owner, unsuccessfully lobbies McCain outside the Senate: "Trump waited to buttonhole him. McCain walked briskly past the casino owner, pretending not to notice as Trump tried to get his attention. Frustrated, Trump shouted after him, 'I gave money to your campaign.' Looking over his shoulder, McCain yelled back, 'Oh yeah? See what that will get you.'"
  • McCain reacting to Trump disparaging him as "not a war hero": Salter called the senator "and cussed prolifically as I condemned Trump's character, intelligence, and appearance. McCain advised me to take it easy. 'All he did was get people to talk about what a hero I am all weekend. That's not my problem, it's his.'"
  • McCain calling Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) an asshole for killing consideration of McCain’s last defense bill by objecting to the debate, which McCain wanted to manage before starting cancer treatment: "[I]t's hard not to see it as an act of spite to prevent a Senate veteran with terminal cancer from doing the job he took pride in completing every year. 'Why do you think he did it?' I asked John. 'Because he hates me, and he's an asshole,' he replied."

Read/watch Mark Salter's interview with Judy Woodruff on "PBS NewsHour."

  • Woodruff: "I dare anybody to read it without tearing up."
  • Salter, who says McCain felt "called by history": "I titled the book 'The Luckiest Man' because that's how he viewed himself."
  • Salter said McCain believed "you redeem yourself from your flaws and failings ... through courage and self-sacrifice and service to others. And he did that at great cost, over and over again."
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